In a galvanizing April Fools’ Day speech in Madison, Wisconsin, President Barack Obama announced that his Administration would “no longer prioritize military spending over educating our children.” Energizing the large crowd, Obama said that he was disgusted by articles describing the biggest level of teacher layoffs in decades, and said that “he refused to deny educational opportunity in exchange for waging a war in Afghanistan that has become too costly and gone on for too long.” The President noted that he was under extreme pressure to cut the budget deficit, but insisted “the biggest mistake our nation could make was to lay off teachers, increase class sizes, and reduce funding for schools.” The Madison crowd roared with approval, with many saying that they had not heard Obama talk like that since his 2008 campaign.

Madison appeared an odd choice for Obama to give a speech announcing new budget priorities, since the President faced criticism for failing to come to Wisconsin during public employees’ high-profile fight to retain collective bargaining. But Obama addressed this issue early in his speech, saying that “Anyone who knows me knows my support for the labor movement, and I know unions will be working closely by my side during my re-election campaign.”

“Too Occupied With War”

Obama told the crowd that he never intended to have war spending crowd out his domestic priorities, and that he had issued immediate instructions to Defense Secretary Gates and Secretary of State Clinton to redirect billions of dollars going to war in Afghanistan to the nation’s schools. He also vowed to battle Republicans over this issue, stating “I think the American people will back me on this.”

Obama defended the U.S. support for bombing Libya, repeating his pledge that no U.S. ground troops would be used.

The President’s speech came the day after the New York Times revealed that “America’s public schools may see the most extensive layoffs of their teaching staffs in decades.” Critics questioned his timing, noting that he gave the speech on April Fool’s Day and knows he needs teacher support for his 2012 re-election campaign.